Exploring Borderline Personality Disorder in Photography

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Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a controversial diagnosis. While some doubt the validity of the label (see Susanna Kasen’s ‘Girl, Interrupted’), it’s a psychiatric diagnosis that is not well-known by the general public and often viewed negatively by professionals. The condition is often characterised by a pervasive problems in relationships, difficulties regulating mood and an unstable and often fragmented sense of self, which may seriously impact on an individual’s functioning and quality of life. Individuals diagnosed with the condition may engage in a range of impulsive and often dangerous behaviours, such as self-harm, heavy drinking, drug-use and aggressive behaviour towards other that may bring them to the attention of services. They may go to frantic efforts to deal with difficult emotions and feelings of loneliness and abandonment, and this can leave them characterised as manipulative and attention-seeking by professionals and those around them.

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Personally I’m sceptical of the concept of a ‘disordered personality’ as a whole, but this is a cluster of symptoms (although there is a very wide range of different things than can come under the umbrella of BPD) and pattern on relating to the self and others that is often seen in mental health services. Many of these individuals have had difficult, chaotic and often traumatic experiences as they were growing up and throughout their lives, and with this in mind, the way in which they behave can make a lot of sense.

I was drawn to Daniel Regan’s ‘Type B’ Project, which I think may get people to think about the experiences and classification of those who get given the BPD label. In this series of photos Daniel expresses some of the difference characteristics associated with the disorder. Often the behaviour of someone with BPD baffles and frustrates the people around them, and I think these images might offer a different way to think about and understand the person’s perspective. The images seem to bring feelings of aloneness, being overwhelmed and bombarded, disconnected. Emptiness and extremity. Using the same model throughout, I think Daniel captures something of the fluctuating moods and volatile sense of being that might be a part of the life of someone with this disorder.

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See the whole project on Daniel’s website here.

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Stop-Motion: Tim Andrews’ ‘Over The Hill’ Photo Project

Rosie Hardy

I’m often drawn to art that draws on ideas about the brain, mind and mental health, and the combination of these. Tim Andrews’ ‘Over The Hill’ project is one that I’ve followed for some time and I feel it speaks a lot about identity and illness, as well as creativity and pushing the boundaries of portrait photography. Tim was diagnosed with Parkinsons in 2005, when he was 54. A couple of years later, he answered an advert in Time Out from a professional photographer looking for people to pose for nude pictures. The experience was enlightening and prompted him to respond to other adverts, and he took to Gumtree to find other photographers to capture him. Now his project includes a couple of hundred different photographers, from students and amateur hobbyists to well-known professionals such as Rankin, who have all photographed Tim in their unique way. The pictures range from candid portraits to monochrome nudes, vibrantly styled pictures and more surreal and bizarre imagery. I was already familiar with some of the photographers Tim has worked with and I like seeing how they incorporated him into their signature-style.  As a photographer myself, the images offer me inspiration for the myriad of different things one could create with a model (as well as thinking about getting in front of the lens!).

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On his blog Tim documents his experiences with each of the photographers. What comes across is his real passion for art and how much he enjoys getting to know the different artists and being a part of their work. It’s fascinating seeing the many different ways that they have represented him, sometimes in a very intimate manner, sometimes more fantastical. One of the most noticeable features of Parkinson’s is the motor tremor that individuals develop. Given this, it’s interesting how the images often give such a picture of stillness and of peace. They’re static representations, frozen micro-second captures of someone who’s life must be rippled with hard to control motion. Parkinson’s is unfortunately a neuro-degenerative condition for which there is no cure, and given the subject matter you could imagine that the project could be quite depressing, charting the body’s decline. However, as Tim takes encounters a wider range of photographers, travels to further locations and creates ever more striking images, he tells a story of someone pushing to get the most out of life.

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Interview with Tim in the Times here

Strong & Beautiful Style at MAC

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I’m currently loving the current MAC ‘Strength’ campaign, featuring fitness model and female body-builder, Jelena Abbou. I’m a long-term fan of MAC make-up and they’re known for employing eye-catching concepts and styling for their photo-shoots, but it’s really refreshing to see a mainstream advertisement that celebrates some diversity in female beauty. Other than rather tokenistic (and often insulting) ‘real women have curves’ shots, a particular standard of young, waifish (and usually white) beauty is very much the published norm. Though being fit and exercising has never exactly been unfashionable, often it seems to be marketed only as a means to losing weight and becoming a particular shape. See this rather depressing article about a New York-based trainer who helps agency models get down to sample size with a very particular exercise regime “Push-ups are out — developing the chest is bad news — as are squats and lunges, which make the derrière too round to fit into the clothes”. When muscular women have featured in ad campaigns and editorials, they’re often portrayed as something of a freak-show attraction, or in a rather masculine manner. It’s nice so see that this campaign celebrates Abbou as a feminine woman as well as an athlete, whose body is a testament to her power and dedication. Strength indeed.

Shop the collection here.

Worlds in the Mist: Kim Høltermand

It’s a beautiful foggy day in London today. I love the atmosphere it gives, serene, slightly mystical; the city dissolving into smoke. It reminds me of the work of one of my favourite photographers who I’m introducing here today, Kim Høltermand. Usually my interests in photography centre on images of people, without much deviation. Høltermand is a Danish photographer who’s subject is buildings and landscapes. Yet somehow he captures them in a way that makes these structures enthralling.

His use of composition, often with a lot of open space, draws attention to details of the buildings and gives a sense of wandering in a ghost-town, stumbling upon relics that have lain untouched for an age. The sharp, geometric patterns made by the lines of the buildings seem to create a strange, futuristic world, standing in the present day. He often uses muted tones that add to this eerie feel, almost like a city submerged under water.

In his 2011 series ‘Deserted City’, he seems to be exploring a dystopian landscape, perhaps after all the inhabitants have been killed off or gone into hiding. But these are real buildings that stand today, perhaps captured at a twilight hour, growing out of the mist.

Interestingly, by day Høltermand works as a fingerprints-expert for the Danish Police Force. What a fascinating guy!

Young and Naked: Vee Speers’ Party Guests

I caught sight of Vee Speers‘ photographs in an article recently in the Metro, where residents living near her Chelsea gallery show had kicked up a fuss about her work being ‘distasteful’ and ‘semi-pornographic’. No doubt the complaints have generated more publicity for the exhibition and the artist than they have deterred visitors. The exhibition, entitled ‘The Birthday Party’ features children dressed up as if to attend a party in a range of quirky and curious outfits. The pictures have an almost-painted quality, they’re pale and slightly eerie, staring doe-eyed, reminding me of the work of Erwin Olaf and digital artist Ray Caesar. The photographs are of Veers’ own daughter and her friends, though she has put together the outfits for the photographs. Some of the shots do involve nudity; a girl clutches dolls to her bare chest, a boy poses with in his underwear with boxing gloves, a girl wears a Minnie mouse-style outfit un-buttoned at the chest. Admittedly these poses might be more provocative for an adult, but I don’t think they’re presented in a sexualised way. Even the shots in which the children dress in more ‘adult’ outfits, the image seems more like ‘playing dress-up as grown-ups’ rather than imitating maturity.

Nudity in itself need not be something sexual or offensive, and in childhood it can be very innocent and playful. Often family photos of children when they’re young will involve some nudity, perhaps playing on the beach or in the garden. Sometimes kids don’t want to wear clothes! Young children don’t tend to feel embarrassed or ashamed of their naked bodies, they haven’t yet learnt to treat it as such. Where does the concern come from over these images? Is it that they might encourage others to view children in a sexual way, or that those who have an attraction to children might find them arousing? Unfortunately we can’t choose what other people get turned on by, one man’s porn is another’s M&S lingerie catalogue. Personally I find these photos rather fascinating, they seem to create a rather bizarre and perfect world ruled by children, with its own rites and customs, that we are not invited to. Sometimes children wear less clothing, but it’s for themselves, it’s their own, not for others. The photos are beautifully composed, simple yet exquisite. The combination of something soft and natural and something more fantastical. We’re all naked underneath and maybe there’s nothing inherently offensive or erotic about a nude body out of any associated context. Maybe we need to decouple the body and nudity from sexuality, which though often intertwined, can exist separately.

Wellcome Image Awards

I’m a little behind on this one, but thought I’d like to mention it anyway. A couple of weeks ago the winners of the Wellcome Image Awards were announced. The prize celebrates images relating to medical science, the domain funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The overall winning image by Robert Lublow at UCL’s Institute of Neurology, is a close-up photograph of the brain of a patient with epilepsy, during an intracranial electrode recording procedure. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something I find very powerful about this image. It looks like a map, the blood vessels like rivers and roads tracing across the surface of the cortex. It’s so bright and colourful, the vibrant red of the blood and the pink of the ‘grey’ matter. I’ve seen so many photos and pictures of brains, and I’ve seen brains up close in dissection classes, but they’ve never looked like this. What makes this photograph different is that it shows the brain alive. There’s blood pumping through it, the tissue is active, this really is a living organ inside someone’s skull. This is a site that I, and most people, aren’t privy to. We see the solid greyness of a preserved brain, and the gradients of an MRI scan, but we don’t actually see the brain, truly as it is, in action. This photo shows us what usually only neurosurgeons would see. And inside there, in all those little intricacies, is the very essence of a person.

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Eyecandy – Zhang Jingna X Mother of London

Time for something pretty! If money were no object, I’d have my entire wardrobe made by Mildred Von Hildegard, the designer of the enigmatic Mother of London. It’s all slick, asymmetrical leather with buckles, straps, studs and puffed sleeves and shoulder-pads a-plenty. Glamorous couture for a post-apocalyptic era. LA-based photographer Zhang Jingna (also known online as Zemotion) is a fierce young talent in fashion photography and for me, this collaboration is pretty close to perfection. Ethereal, ghostly and graceful, the model seems like a dark queen of the ocean. The location gives a feel of a kind of watery wasteland and the images are filled with contrast, milky whites and inky, tarry blacks. Delicious. I’ll no doubt be featuring more work from both of these fantastic creatives.

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